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Archive for May, 2020

Trump baby blimp flies in London as protests greet president

June 04, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of protesters greeted President Donald Trump’s U.K. visit with anger and British irony Tuesday, crowding London’s government district while the U.S. leader met Prime Minister Theresa May nearby.

Feminists, environmentalists, peace activists, trade unionists and others demonstrated against the lavish royal welcome being given to a president they see as a danger to the world, chanting “Say it loud, say it clear, Donald Trump’s not welcome here.”

“I’m very cross he’s here,” said guitar teacher Katie Greene, carrying a home-made sign reading “keep your grabby hands off our national treasures” under a picture of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis.

“I find him scary. My sign is flippant and doesn’t say the things I’d really like to say.” A day of protests began with the flying of a giant blimp depicting the president as an angry orange baby, which rose from the grass of central London’s Parliament Square.

One group came dressed in the red cloaks and bonnets of characters from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which is set in a dystopian, misogynist future America. Demonstrators filled Trafalgar Square and spilled down Whitehall, a street lined with imposing government offices, before marching half a mile to Parliament.

Many paused to photograph a robotic likeness of Trump sitting on a golden toilet, cellphone in hand. The robot caught the attention of passers-by with its recitation of catchphrases including “No collusion” and “You are fake news.”

“It’s 16 feet high, so it’s as large as his ego,” said Don Lessem from Philadelphia, who built the statue from foam over an iron frame and had it shipped by boat across the Atlantic. Lessem, a dinosaur expert who makes models of prehistoric creatures, said “I’m interested in things that are big, not very intelligent and have lost their place in history.”

“I wanted people here to know that people in America do not support Trump in the majority . and humor is my weapon,” he said. Police erected barricades to stop protesters marching past the gates of Downing St., though the shouts and chants could be heard as Trump met May for talks inside the prime minister’s official residence.

Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed the crowd, criticizing the “hatreds that are being fueled by the far-right in politics in Britain, in Europe and the United States.” Corbyn declined an invitation to Monday’s banquet for the president at Buckingham Palace, but sought a meeting with Trump — which was refused.

“He wanted to meet today or tomorrow and I decided I would not do that,” said Trump, calling Corbyn “somewhat of a negative force.” Labor confirmed that Corbyn had proposed a meeting. Emily Thornberry, Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, said Trump was “a sexual predator” and a racist who did not deserve the honor of a state visit hosted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Thornberry told the BBC that the leader of Britain’s most important ally should be stood up to “the way you deal with a bully” because “if you bow down in front of them you just get kicked harder.” There were occasional scuffles as some of the protesters confronted small pockets of Trump supporters. Police moved in to separate the groups, and bundled some of the combatants into a nearby pub.

One counter-protester, Lewis Metcalfe, said he had traveled from his home in northern England to show support for the president. “I’m obviously going to be a minority today,” said Metcalfe. “I don’t agree with all his policies. He’s not the greatest president in the world, but he does get things done.”

Trump has dined with the queen at Buckingham Palace, took tea with Prince Charles and held talks with May during his three-day state visit, which ends Wednesday with commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The president said he was delighted with his reception in Britain, and said he had seen only “a small protest … very small.” He also claimed, exaggeratedly, that there had been “thousands of people on the streets cheering” as he left Buckingham Palace.

May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

May 24, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Bowing to the inevitable, Theresa May announced Friday that she will step down as U.K. Conservative Party leader in two weeks, admitting defeat in her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union and sparking a contest to replace her as prime minister.

May said she will quit as head of the governing party on June 7 but stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen, a process the Conservatives aim to complete by late July. The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election, and will take up the task of trying to secure Britain’s exit from the EU.

May, who has been battling to unite her fractious party ever since she took the helm almost three years ago, said “I have done my best.” But she conceded that had not been enough. Her voice breaking, May said in a televised statement outside 10 Downing St. that she would soon be leaving a job that it has been “the honor of my life to hold.”

May became prime minister the month after the U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and her premiership has been consumed by the attempt to deliver on that verdict. May spent more than a year and a half negotiating an exit agreement with the EU, only to see it rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Many Conservative lawmakers came to see May as the main obstacle to leaving the bloc, although her replacement will face the same issue: a Parliament deeply divided over whether to exit the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with Europe after it does.

Now she has quit over her failure to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of March 29. Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but Parliament has yet to approve divorce terms.

“I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbors that protects jobs, our security and our Union,” May said. “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”

“It is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” she added. Multiple contenders are already jockeying to replace her and take up the challenge of securing Britain’s EU exit. The early front-runner is Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of Brexit.

Pressure on May reached breaking point this week as House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several Cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about the bill she planned to put before Parliament in a fourth attempt to secure lawmakers’ backing for her Brexit blueprint.

Leadsom, another likely contender to replace May, joined colleagues in paying tribute to the departing leader. She tweeted that May’s “dignified speech” had been “an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty. She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best.”

Johnson, whose relentless criticism helped push May out of the door, tweeted: “Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”

But Johnson, or any other successor, will face a tough challenge to unite a country and a Parliament still deeply divided over the country’s relationship with Europe. The next British leader is likely to be a staunch Brexiteer, who will try to renegotiate the divorce deal, and if that fails to leave the bloc without an agreement on departure terms.

Most businesses and economists think that would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into recession. Parliament has voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit, though it remains the legal default option.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, an opponent of Brexit, tweeted that May’s exit “will not solve the Brexit mess that the Tories have created. … The prospect of an even more hardline Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no deal exit is deeply concerning.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised May as “a woman of courage” for whom he has great respect. EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Juncker would “equally respect and establish working relations” with any new British leader. But the bloc insists it will not renegotiate the Brexit deal.

“We have set out our position on the withdrawal agreement and on the political declaration,” Andreeva said. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted that the “agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an ordered Brexit remains on the table.”

Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman, Martina Fietz, said the German chancellor noted May’s decision “with respect” and would continue to work closely with her successor for “an orderly exit.” In an emotional departure speech, with close aides and her husband Philip looking on, May said “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold – the second female prime minister but certainly not the last.”

“I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”

Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London, Raf Casert in Brussels and David Rising in Berlin contributed.

UK’s May says she’ll quit as Conservative leader June 7

May 24, 2019

LONDON (AP) — Bowing to the inevitable, Theresa May announced Friday that she will step down as U.K. Conservative Party leader in two weeks, admitting defeat in her attempt to take Britain out of the European Union and sparking a contest to replace her as prime minister.

May said she will quit as head of the governing party on June 7 but stay as caretaker prime minister until the new leader is chosen, a process the Conservatives aim to complete by late July. The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election, and will take up the task of trying to secure Britain’s exit from the EU.

May, who has been battling to unite her fractious party ever since she took the helm almost three years ago, said “I have done my best.” But she conceded that had not been enough. Her voice breaking, May said in a televised statement outside 10 Downing St. that she would soon be leaving a job that it has been “the honor of my life to hold.”

May became prime minister the month after the U.K. voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, and her premiership has been consumed by the attempt to deliver on that verdict. May spent more than a year and a half negotiating an exit agreement with the EU, only to see it rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament.

Many Conservative lawmakers came to see May as the main obstacle to leaving the bloc, although her replacement will face the same issue: a Parliament deeply divided over whether to exit the EU, and how close a relationship to seek with Europe after it does.

Now she has quit over her failure to take Britain out of the EU on the scheduled date of March 29. Britain is currently due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, but Parliament has yet to approve divorce terms.

“I negotiated the terms of our exit and a new relationship with our closest neighbors that protects jobs, our security and our Union,” May said. “I have done everything I can to convince MPs to back that deal. Sadly, I have not been able to do so.”

“It is now clear to me that it is in the best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort,” she added. Multiple contenders are already jockeying to replace her and take up the challenge of securing Britain’s EU exit. The early front-runner is Boris Johnson, a former foreign secretary and strong champion of Brexit.

Pressure on May reached breaking point this week as House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom quit and several Cabinet colleagues expressed doubts about the bill she planned to put before Parliament in a fourth attempt to secure lawmakers’ backing for her Brexit blueprint.

Leadsom, another likely contender to replace May, joined colleagues in paying tribute to the departing leader. She tweeted that May’s “dignified speech” had been “an illustration of her total commitment to country and duty. She did her utmost, and I wish her all the very best.”

Johnson, whose relentless criticism helped push May out of the door, tweeted: “Thank you for your stoical service to our country and the Conservative Party. It is now time to follow her urgings: to come together and deliver Brexit.”

But Johnson, or any other successor, will face a tough challenge to unite a country and a Parliament still deeply divided over the country’s relationship with Europe. The next British leader is likely to be a staunch Brexiteer, who will try to renegotiate the divorce deal, and if that fails to leave the bloc without an agreement on departure terms.

Most businesses and economists think that would cause economic turmoil and plunge Britain into recession. Parliament has voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit, though it remains the legal default option.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, an opponent of Brexit, tweeted that May’s exit “will not solve the Brexit mess that the Tories have created. … The prospect of an even more hardline Brexiteer now becoming PM and threatening a no deal exit is deeply concerning.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised May as “a woman of courage” for whom he has great respect. EU spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Juncker would “equally respect and establish working relations” with any new British leader. But the bloc insists it will not renegotiate the Brexit deal.

“We have set out our position on the withdrawal agreement and on the political declaration,” Andreeva said. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte tweeted that the “agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an ordered Brexit remains on the table.”

Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman, Martina Fietz, said the German chancellor noted May’s decision “with respect” and would continue to work closely with her successor for “an orderly exit.” In an emotional departure speech, with close aides and her husband Philip looking on, May said “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold – the second female prime minister but certainly not the last.”

“I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve the country I love.”

Associated Press writers Gregory Katz in London, Raf Casert in Brussels and David Rising in Berlin contributed.

Britain approves $3.3M for consortium to develop drone swarm technology

By Allen Cone

APRIL 1, 2019

April 1 (UPI) — Britain’s government has awarded a $3.3 million contract for a consortium to develop drone swarm technology for the military as part of the Many Drones Make Light Work project.

The swarms are planned to operate alongside Britain’s F-35 and Typhoon combat aircraft, Britain’s Defense Ministry announced Thursday. Funding comes from the Defense and Security Accelerator.

The consortium is led by Blue Bear Systems Research, a world leader in autonomous system solutions. IQHQ, Plextek, Airbus and the University of Durham are also part of the contracted team.

The 18-month “integration concept evaluation” phase will culminate in live flight demonstrations to the military. Twenty unmanned aerial systems will be produced into the final stage of development and will ultimately be managed by the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory.

“The MOD continues to invest in pioneering technology that enhances capability, reduces risk to personnel and enables us to better perform our tasks,” Defense Minister Stuart Andrew said in a news release. “Drone swarm technology can revolutionize how we conduct intelligence gathering, humanitarian aid, disposal of explosives and supply our troops on the battlefield.

Currently, operational systems require one or more operators to pilot the aircraft or to closely manage the flight mission.

Swam systems operate collaboratively to achieve a common goal, which the government said is a “great benefit to defense.”

A swarm provides increased efficiency, lower costs and greater resilience in situational awareness, medical assistance, logistics resupply, explosive ordnance detection and disposal, and confusion and deception.

“The ability to deploy a swarm of low-cost autonomous systems delivers a new paradigm for battlefield operations,” Blue Bear Systems Managing Director Ian Williams-Wynn said. “During this project, we will deploy next-generation autonomy, machine learning, and AI to reduce the number of operators required, the time it takes to train them, and the cognitive burden on any operator during active operations.”

Britain’s defense ministry sees the swarm system as one possible solution to a multiple domain requirement in which robotic solutions utilize fewer people and equipment. That includes removing the operator from potentially harmful situations.

“The Phase 3 competition requirements were deliberately very challenging, as we wanted to drive rapid innovation and encourage imaginative solutions,” Antony Grabham, the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory project technical lead, said. “The winning consortium really highlights the best of U.K. Industry, showcasing how our world-leading small and medium enterprise companies can be harnessed to deliver a transformation in military capability.

In February, the British government authorized $40.7 million for new mini-drones from the $210 million Transformation Fund.

The mini-drones will provide soldiers with an “eye-in-the-sky,” the Ministry of Defense said in a news release. The Times reported that the drones will be “smaller than a hand” and weigh less than 200 grams. Some funding will be used to convert existing fighting vehicles into remote-controlled driverless systems.

The Transformation Fund is part of its 2018 Modernizing Defense Program, including two new Littoral strike ships.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has launched the Gremlins program, named for the imaginary, mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II. Groups of drones would be launched from existing large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms. C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home for their next use within 24 hours.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Dynetics are designing prototypes.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2019/04/01/Britain-approves-33M-for-consortium-to-develop-drone-swarm-technology/2331554129836/.

UK official criticized after baby of IS teen dies in Syria

March 09, 2019

LONDON (AP) — British Home Secretary Sajid Javid faced criticism Saturday after the death of a U.K. teenager’s baby in a Syrian camp. Shamima Begum, who had left London as a 15-year-old in 2015 to join the Islamic State group, had pleaded with British authorities before her baby was born to let her return to Britain to raise the child.

But Javid revoked her passport, saying Begum hadn’t shown any remorse. The teen had told newspaper reporters she didn’t have a problem with IS actions, including the beheading of captives. Begum’s infant son died Friday. Begum’s family said the boy appeared to be in good health when he was born on Feb. 17. No clear cause of death has yet been given, but reports suggested he was having respiratory problems.

Fellow Conservative Party lawmaker Phillip Lee said Saturday he was “deeply concerned” by Javid’s handling of the case, suggesting he had taken a hard line in order to please populists. He said it was clear 19-year-old Begum “holds abhorrent views,” but called her a child who was a product of British society. Britain had a moral duty to her and to her baby, he said.

When Begum first started speaking to reporters more than three weeks ago, she said the first two children she had given birth to since joining the extremist group had died of malnutrition and other ailments. She said she wanted to come home so she didn’t lose another child.

Her predicament sparked a national debate on how the U.K. should handle Britons who had joined the extremists and now seek to return because IS has lost its territory in Syria and Iraq. The challenge faces other European countries as the final IS stronghold in Syria is on the brink of falling, giving its fighters and their often youthful spouses no place left to hide.

U.S. President Donald Trump weighed in on the matter last month, saying European countries have a responsibility to take back and put on trial about 800 IS fighters who have been captured by U.S.-backed forces in Syria.

Begum is married to a Dutch national who joined IS extremists and has since been taken into custody. He said last week that he wanted to be able to live in the Netherlands with his wife and newborn son, who is now dead.

Kirsty McNeill, a director at Save the Children UK, said Britain should “take responsibility for their citizens” in Syria to prevent further unnecessary losses. “It is possible the death of this baby boy and others could have been avoided,” she said.

Javid didn’t comment directly on the baby’s death. A government spokesman said “the death of any child is tragic” and reiterated the British government’s advice that citizens avoid travel to Syria.

UK-EU deadlocked in Brexit talks as clock ticks down

May 15, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Talks between the European Union and the United Kingdom on their post-Brexit relationship ground to a near-standstill Friday, with each side accusing the other of blocking progress on a trade deal just weeks before a crucial summit.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told a news conference in Brussels that a week-long round of talks had been “disappointing, very disappointing.” Barnier said there was no progress on all the most difficult issues and insisted Britain would have to show more realism.

“I am not optimistic in the face of British incomprehension,” he said. The British side echoed the glum assessment, calling the mood of the talks “tetchy.” U.K. negotiator David Frost said the talks had “made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues.” In a statement, Frost accused the EU of insisting on “an ideological approach which makes it more difficult to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.”

The two sides remain at odds over a range of key issues including fishing and the role of high courts in settling future disputes. EU leaders and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson are scheduled to have a summit at the end of June, likely by video, to take stock of the talks’ progress.

Britain officially left the 27-nation bloc on Jan. 31, but remains within the EU’s economic and regulatory orbit until the end of the year. The two sides have until then to work out a new relationship covering trade, security and a host of other issues — or face a chaotic split that would be economically disruptive for both sides, but especially for the U.K.

The U.K.-EU divorce agreement allows for the deadline to be extended by two years, but Johnson’s government insists it won’t lengthen the transition period beyond Dec. 31. Most trade deals take years to negotiate, so finishing something as fundamental as this in 11 months would be a Herculean task at the best of times. Many politicians, experts and diplomats believe it is impossible during a coronavirus pandemic that has focused governments’ resources on preserving public health and averting economic collapse.

Both Barnier and Frost fell sick with COVID-19, though both have recovered. While the two men say they have a good personal relationship, the two sides accuse the other of seeking the impossible. Britain wants a a “Canada-style” free-trade deal that would involve the elimination of tariffs and quotas on most, if not all, goods, along with agreements on services and a range of other issues. The EU says Britain can’t have that without signing up to a swath of the bloc’s regulations on environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid. Otherwise, they say, there wouldn’t be a level playing field.

“We will not trade off our European values for the benefit of the British economy. Our economic and commercial fair play is not for sale,” Barnier said. But the U.K. government says that signing up to EU rules and standards amounts to an unacceptable undermining of the country’s independence.

Frost said that to make progress, “we very much need a change in EU approach” for the next round of talks, due to start June 1. If no deal on their future relationship is agreed by the end of the year, a cliff-edge economic departure would loom again for Britain, with uncertainly over customs rules, airline slots, financial regulation and other standards.

Both sides are already facing a serious recession because of the pandemic and a chaotic split on Dec. 31 wouldn’t help.

Jill Lawless reported from London.

With joy and sadness, UK lawmakers pack up in Brussels

January 28, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union — cardboard boxes and Union Jack socks and all. With the Brexit moment set for Friday at midnight Brussels time ( 11 p.m. U.K. time) some U.K. legislators at the European Parliament in Brussels who have been fervent Brexit pushers were wasting no time getting ready to get out the door.

Lawmaker Nigel Farage’s office on Tuesday was a jumble of boxes and mementos ready to be packed and shipped. His favorite souvenir? A framed Economist cover with him, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin marching to the big drums of populism.

“It’s not meant to be flattering, but in a sense, what it sums up is the great battle that’s going on,” Farage said in an interview with The Associated Press. He was still wearing his Union Jack socks, ready for Wednesday’s plenary when the EU parliament should overwhelmingly approve the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the last act needed before the U.K. leaves on Friday.

Downstairs in the parliamentary halls, some fans of the Brexit party, also dressed in British colors were posing among the flags of the member states, laughing and shouting at anyone wanting to hear how the EU was “a dictatorship.”

Yet for most of the parliament’s legislators and many of the departing British lawmakers, the EU remains one of the greatest experiments in peace-building and democracy following the devastation across Europe from World War II.

Among the British backers of the EU are members of the Greens party, who lit lights outside the European Parliament against the darkening sky, a symbolic “We’ll leave a light on” action in case British lawmakers ever do return to Brussels.

For a more official occasion, EU Parliament chief David Sassoli will bid the U.K. legislators a formal farewell during Wednesday’s plenary, where the Brexit vote will take place. Even the U.K.’s representation offices will change their name and become the U.K. Mission to the European Union. For insiders, UKReps will become UKMis, and they will still be just as busy, since both Britain and the EU still need to figure their future relationship and trade deals.

One thing is sure though. “We’re passing the point of no return,” said Farage. “We”re leaving. We’re never coming back.”

Ringing in Brexit? Plans to celebrate UK exit divide country

January 26, 2020

LONDON (AP) — With Brexit just days away, Britons are fighting over the chimes of Big Ben. And the White Cliffs of Dover are a battleground. As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union on Friday, people are divided over how to mark a historic moment that some are relishing but others are dreading.

Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership split the country: 52% opted to leave the 28-nation bloc, 48% voted to remain. The intervening years of political wrangling over the departure terms have not healed the divide.

For pro-Europeans, departure at 11 p.m. (2300 GMT) Jan. 31 will be the melancholy moment that Britain abandons a project that brought once-warring nations together, created a vast free-trading zone of half a billion people and let Europeans study, work and live across the continent.

For Brexit supporters, it will be the instant the U.K. once again becomes a sovereign nation after 47 years of membership in the bloated, bureaucratic EU club. “It’s a momentous occasion,” said Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice, who plans to join party leader Nigel Farage and thousands of supporters for a party outside Parliament on Friday night. “It’s a great celebration of the democratic will. And it’s right to celebrate it.”

Organizers are promising music, songs, speeches, a light show and a New Year’s Eve-style countdown in the shadow of Parliament’s clock tower. But, to their chagrin, Brexit probably won’t be marked by the sound of the giant Big Ben bell, whose hourly bongs are a world-famous symbol of British democracy.

Big Ben has been largely silent since 2017 while the clock tower is being repaired, and House of Commons authorities said bringing it back for one night could cost as much as 500,000 pounds ($654,000).

Undaunted, Brexiteers launched a crowdfunding campaign, encouraged by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said “we’re looking at whether the public can fund it.” But Johnson’s Downing Street office quickly distanced itself from the idea, and Commons authorities made it clear they considered it impractical to have Big Ben bong for Brexit.

Tice chided “the bureaucratic blob” for hobbling the plan. But never fear: “We have a Plan B.” “We will play the sound of Big Ben chiming, that wonderful sound, loudly through our excellent speaker system,” he said. “And in 50 years’ time … this will be the image of the U.K. leaving the European Union (on) 31st January 2020.

“It’ll be a sense of coming together, of pride, of patriotism, of belief in our country.” Many Britons don’t share his excitement. “Spending half a million pounds to ring a few bells is just silly. People who want to do it are off their trolley, frankly,” said Tony Greaves, a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

Greaves warned colleagues this week that many people — especially the more than 3 million citizens of other EU countries who live in Britain — feel a sense of loss “akin to bereavement” about Brexit. “A lot of people will not be celebrating. They’ll be feeling very sad and very glum,” he said. “People are saying we want to bring the country together now after the division. This is the last possible way to do it.”

A suggestion that church bells should ring, as they did to mark the end of two world wars, also struck a discordant note. The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers stressed that it “does not endorse bell ringing for political reasons.”

Debate also is raging in the English Channel port of Dover, where a pro-EU politician, Liberal Democrat Antony Hook, has raised more than 13,000 pounds ($17,000) to plaster a huge “We still love EU” banner on the famous White Cliffs on Brexit day.

Dover’s pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Natalie Elphicke, has suggested instead a banner proclaiming, “We love the U.K.,” accompanied by a fireworks display that could be seen from France, 32 kilometers (20 miles) away.

Britain’s entry into what was then the European Economic Community at the start of 1973 was marked by similar ambivalence. The country was divided on the issue, and there were quiet demonstrations by activists on both sides, but, at least immediately, no major festivities.

“Britain passed peacefully into Europe at midnight last night without any special celebrations,” The Guardian newspaper reported on Jan. 1, 1973. “It was difficult to tell that anything of importance had occurred.”

Almost half a century on, Johnson’s Conservative government must balance its own enthusiasm for Brexit with the knowledge that half the country opposes the decision to walk away from the EU. The prime minister is scheduled to make a televised address Friday evening, stressing unity and the healing of divisions. As 11 p.m. approaches, government buildings will be lit up and a countdown clock projected onto the black bricks of the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. residence.

Historian Margaret MacMillan urged the government to avoid a tone of triumphalism. She said if ever there were a time for British understatement, this is it. “It is not a time for celebration. It is a time for reconciliation,” said MacMillan, a University of Toronto professor whose books include “Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History.”

“If the prime minister really wanted to be prime ministerial, he could say, ‘Look, we’ve had a long, difficult disagreement, but let’s sit down and be friends again,’ and just have a tea party or something,” she said. “I think low-key is better.”

Associated Press video journalist Jo Kearney contributed to this story.

Top EU officials sign Brexit deal in closed door ceremony

January 24, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The leaders of two of the European Union’s main institutions on Friday signed the divorce agreement governing Britain’s departure from the bloc next week, sealing the penultimate step in Brexit at a ceremony held without media access.

European Council President Charles Michel tweeted photos of the overnight signing with the president of the EU’s powerful executive commission, Ursula von der Leyen, in the presence of their Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Both institutions rejected repeated media demands for access to what is a small but legally significant step marking the first time a member state has ever left the world’s biggest trading bloc. Time stamps on the official photos show that the ceremony took place at around 2 a.m. local time (0100 GMT).

“Charles Michel and I have just signed the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU, opening the way for its ratification by the European Parliament,” Von der Leyen tweeted about six hours after the signing.

“Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies,” Michel tweeted in reference to ties with Britain, also hours after the signing ceremony, adding: “I can’t wait to write this new page together.”

After the signing, U.K. and EU officials took the document to London, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson put his own signature on it — also without journalists present. Britain’s delayed and disputed Brexit bill became law in the country on Thursday, removing the last U.K. obstacle for it to leave on Jan. 31, more than 3 1/2 years after voters narrowly opted to do so in a June 2016 referendum.

The EU Parliament is expected to ratify the Brexit divorce deal next Wednesday just days before the deadline. It appears a formality after the assembly’s influential constitutional affairs committee voted in favor by a large margin on Thursday.

SpaceX’s 1st astronaut launch breaking new ground for style

May 24, 2020

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The first astronauts launched by SpaceX are breaking new ground for style with hip spacesuits, gull-wing Teslas and a sleek rocketship — all of it white with black trim. The color coordinating is thanks to Elon Musk, the driving force behind both SpaceX and Tesla, and a big fan of flash and science fiction.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken like the fresh new look. They’ll catch a ride to the launch pad in a Tesla Model X electric car. “It is really neat, and I think the biggest testament to that is my 10-year-old son telling me how cool I am now,” Hurley told The Associated Press.

“SpaceX has gone all out” on the capsule’s appearance, he said. “And they’ve worked equally as hard to make the innards and the displays and everything else in the vehicle work to perfection.” The true test comes Wednesday when Hurley and Behnken climb aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and, equipment and weather permitting, shoot into space. It will be the first astronaut launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center since the last shuttle flight in 2011.

It will also mark the first attempt by a private company to send astronauts into orbit. Only governments — Russia, the U.S., and China — have done that. The historic send-off deserves to look good, according to SpaceX. It already has a nice ring. Musk named his rocket after the “Star Wars” Millennium Falcon. The capsule name stems from “Puff the Magic Dragon,” Musk’s jab at all the doubters when he started SpaceX in 2002.

SpaceX designed and built its own suits, which are custom-fit. Safety came first. The cool — or wow — factor was a close second. “It’s important that the suits are comfortable and also are inspiring,” explained SpaceX’s Benji Reed. a mission director. “But above all, it’s designed to keep the crew safe.”

The bulky, orange ascent and entry suits worn by shuttle astronauts had their own attraction, according to Behnken, who like Hurley wore them for his two previous missions. Movies like “Armageddon” and “Space Cowboys” stole the orange look whenever actors were “trying to pretend to be astronauts.”

On launch day, Hurley and Behnken will get ready inside Kennedy’s remodeled crew quarters, which dates back to the two-man Gemini missions of the mid-1960s. SpaceX techs will help the astronauts into their one-piece, two-layer pressure suits.

Hurley and Behnken will emerge through the same double doors used on July 16, 1969, by Apollo 11′s Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins — the Operations and Checkout Building now bears Armstrong’s name.

But instead of the traditional Astrovan, the two will climb into the back seat of a Tesla Model X for the nine-mile ride to Launch Complex 39A, the same pad used by the moonmen and most shuttle crews. It’s while they board the Tesla that they’ll see their wives and young sons for the last time before flight.

Making a comeback after three decades is NASA’s worm logo — wavy, futuristic-looking red letters spelling NASA, the “A” resembling rocket nose cones. The worm adorns the Astro-Tesla, Falcon and even the astronauts’ suits, along with NASA’s original blue meatball-shaped logo.

The white-suited Hurley and Behnken will transfer from the white Tesla to the white Dragon atop the equally white Falcon 9. “It’s going to be quite a show,” Reed promised.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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